Growing up, Ditch Davey was often found at the beach. He enjoyed the highs of catching a wave; the thrill of chasing down the next barrel. Surfing was an easy fit for his athletic build, as were many sports he tried – so much so, that he rarely gave thought to pursuing hobbies outside of sport, such as acting.
However, one day, his beloved sanctuary turned hostile when he found himself in a violent altercation on the sand. The event, which Ditch says he "wishes never happened", wasn't exactly a positive moment in his youth, but it led him to become the man he is today.
"There was an incident when I was young and, while it was unfortunate, in a way I'm glad, because it gave me the life I've got," Ditch, 47, reflects. "I sold my board the next week and jumped into theatre. My sister had urged me to try theatre and I'd thought, 'No way!' [Laughs] But I eventually did it – out of obligation, of sorts – and found I really enjoyed it. I felt safe."
It's a lesson the actor continues to learn from even today.
"We all have scars in our lives," Ditch says. "It's how you look at the effects of them. It [the incident] gave me so much on both sides and opened up a door I never thought was even a possibility."
Decades on, with numerous acting roles under his belt, such as in Blue Heelers, Spartacus and The Gloaming, Ditch is back at the beach – Sydney's Palm Beach, to be precise – where he's filming Home And Away. The star plays the new doctor in town, Christian Green.
"It's funny how life turns out," Ditch says. "Because it's only been in the last couple of years that I've reacquainted myself with the beach – because the kids are keen to get down there – and now I'm in Home And Away."
He adds that working across the globe and living in Melbourne hasn't afforded them much time at the beach.
"I've worked in a triangle pattern between Australia, New Zealand and America for a lot of my career, so I was quite busy doing those loops," he explains. "Then this came up and I thought, 'Let's do it.' I've always been flexible in my career, so it was more the trajectory of the character than anything else that drew me in."
After receiving the call to begin filming, Ditch, his wife Sophia and sons Eden and Taika packed their bags and headed to Sydney. For the family, the timing of the move brought both heartbreak and relief amid the global pandemic. Victoria was on the cusp of a second wave (which has since come to fruition), and the Home And Away team were taking necessary precautions in New South Wales.
"I was two days into shooting when we got shut down, so it was a bit of a false start," Ditch recalls of his first days on set. "But with everything that's happening in Victoria, it's been heartbreaking to see it unfold from afar, as my family and friends are all there. I'm happy to be here, though, and getting into this new role."
Like most Australians, Ditch has watched the long-running series over the years, so stepping into the world of Summer Bay "after all this time" gave him pause for thought.
"It was nice to become part of the enormously rich tapestry that is Home And Away," Ditch says with a smile.
"It's nice to put my fingerprint on it.
"I'm fortunate to work with some lovely people too. Penny [McNamee, who plays doctor Tori] is an affable person; bright and bubbly. It's been wonderful to work alongside her – we've developed a trust in each other. When that happens, it allows you to produce great work together."
Working on a production such as Home And Away can be exhilarating and somewhat daunting to newcomers. The busy schedule and fast pace at which they work runs like a well-oiled machine. Cast members often describe it as more of a lifestyle than a job.
But Ditch was ready, having earned his stripes in multiple iconic Aussie dramas, including Blue Heelers from 2001 to 2006. His role as Evan "Jonesy" Jones not only launched his public profile, but won him the TV WEEK Logie Award for Most Popular New Male Talent in 2002.
"I've always said Heelers was my apprenticeship," he says. "It was wonderful, and there were a lot of people watching me do my apprenticeship. [Laughs] But what a great show to cut your teeth on. I was fortunate to be able to do it for as long as I did."
The cop series has become embedded in popular culture, with the memorable characters of Mount Thomas synonymous with the actors who played them. Ditch, who in 2021 will celebrate the 20th anniversary of his character's debut, still occasionally refers to his role.
"Blue Heelers has set me up for every production I've done," he says. "When I walk onto new shows, there's something familiar I hark back to or tap into – whether it's about my role or if I'm learning the facets of production."
"In fact, the last time I left Sydney was to do Heelers [which was filmed in Melbourne], so coming back for Home And Away almost 20 years later was funny to think about."
While Ditch remains quiet on the possibility of a Blue Heelers reunion, he does keep in contact with his former colleagues when he can.
"We see each other in many and various ways – whether it's in a production or at social events," he says. "It's always been a family show and we all feel blessed to have been part of it."
Despite Ditch's successful career, his own children are yet to see him in action. Most of the time, it's due to the nature of the series he's starring in and how appropriate it is for a young audience. But that could all change with his role on a drama as family-friendly as Home And Away is.
"They haven't seen a lot of the stuff I've done, particularly the youngest one," he says. "But they're excited to watch Home And Away and I am too. When they were a bit younger, they used to come to set and play around with Nerf guns [toy weapons] or raid the craft services table."
For now, Dad's workplace is as good as a playground. But should Eden and Taika take further interest in his profession down the track, Ditch is happy for them to follow his lead.
"I'm happy for them to forge their own path if that's that they want to do – or not," he says. "It's more important to me that they grow up being good, happy people."
As for his own future and what it may hold, Ditch isn't rushing into anything. Like his kids, he simply wants to "live in the moment and be happy".
"Whatever I'm doing and wherever I am in the world, I'm very happy to be there," the actor says.
"I'm very grateful and I don't want to miss the moment. Life can be quite turbulent in terms of travelling around – sometimes you wake up not knowing where you are! [Laughs] So I want to place myself, plant my feet and simply enjoy myself."